Last Monday, I attended the campus screening of The Mask You Live In, a documentary that explores various ideas and behaviors that shape the way our society defines masculinity. The documentary assessed anything from what it means for males to “man up” and deny themselves the opportunity to share and express emotions — unless of course, those emotions are anger and indifference — to issues regarding the ways in which men engage with women. I wasn’t able to stick around for the dialogue after the show, so I figured writing a short response to the film was the best way for me to express my gratitude toward Professor Michael Addis, Matti McAlpin, and those who attended for simply having the balls to talk about the issues that come with hypermasculinity.
One of the challenges that males in my generation are called to face — particularly those who go to college and live on campus — is merely understanding how hypermasculinity and the relational perils of the ever-notorious hook-up culture work in conjunction with each other to deteriorate the male capacity to engage authentically with their female counterparts.
The Mask You Live In did a fairly decent job exploring the degree to which drugs and alcohol — and all of the fundamental components to the “party life” — either encourage or discourage certain expressions of masculinity. To echo the film’s assertions, and perhaps even take them a step further, I think that drugs and alcohol often serve as the most easily applicable “masks,” if you will, in terms of men and women engaging with each other. What I mean by that is simple: I think the reason why a considerable amount of guys are so attracted to this idea of drinking and going to parties is because they think (and to a great degree, RIGHTLY think) they have a better opportunity at hooking up with a chick and having sex with her. Thus, with the temporary sense of confidence that comes with a couple of shots, I think some guys are under the impression that they can skip all of the meaningful prerequisites that come with intimacy, and by that thread, sex no longer becomes something special between two people who know and care about each other deeply. Instead, it becomes an impersonal encounter characterized by instant gratification.
Now, it is certainly none of my business to know who is hooking up with who. That being said, I feel like it is my responsibility as a male to hold my fellow dudes accountable. The main reason why the hook up culture is so problematic for us males, especially in light of how easily accessible the party scene makes sexual encounters, is (yes, I’m saying it again) that it supplants true intimacy and its necessary prerequisites with something impersonal. In other words, the instant gratification that comes with hooking up with some chick from a party — although it may serve to boost some “lucky” dude’s ego just a bit — doesn’t really help us develop good relational skills, nor does it foster our ability to truly appreciate a woman for her character. By engaging in impersonal sexual encounters, it seems as though both women and men are at risk of losing the ability to truly appreciate what intimacy has to offer a relationship — let alone experiencing the actual beauty of having a functional relationship itself.
For guys in particular, there is this sense that we often define our masculinity on the basis of how many impersonal sexual encounters we can tally up on the board. As the film pointed out, hooking up with as many chicks as we can begins to assume a social significance, and guys who do pull the “hottest” chicks get envied and glorified. Thus, the social factor becomes an incentive, and we have the tendency to ride that incentive, using it as a way to justify why we run through girls so quickly and impersonally — as if they were at our disposal, and in fact, didn’t possess any sense of selfhood, nor anything worth getting to know deeply. To me, that’s a cop out. A false, meaningless sense of masculinity. That type of attitude toward ourselves, as well as the women we encounter, prescribes to a false notion that, as men, we have little interest in revealing our WHOLE self to a woman for the purpose of knowing her WHOLE self. We lose out on authenticity.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not indicting all men who go to parties. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, plenty of good guys who make it a point to really know a woman.
That being said, I’d like to see the good guys put their money where their mouth is. Yes, continue to lead by example. But that isn’t enough. In terms of encouraging each other to pursue women authentically, not just for sex, I think the most effective approach is changing the way we talk about women. It’s not easy, but choosing to talk about the quality of her character, the merit of her academic drive, her capacity for compassion, and even her potential as a women to start a family with — all of those things hold much more weight than talking about the size of her boobs and the shape of her ass. Talking about the character of a woman already puts us on a platform that minimizes the foolish perils of hypermasculinity, for our mind is not fixated on how easy it will be to have sex with her; instead, by redefining the way we talk about and treat women, we begin to think long term, we begin to think about what kind of companion we want to be to our female counterpart.
The way we treat women should definitely contribute to our sense of masculinity. However, our masculinity should not be built up and demonstrated at the expense of a woman.
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